South Africa’s first‘ Black Female SAPS Helicopter Pilot is From Lenyenye

Born and bred in Lenyenye in a single-parent household with six siblings in a semi-rural township of the Limpopo province of South Africa.

Refilwe Ledwaba graduated with a BSc in Microbiology and Biochemistry from the University of Cape Town. From there she went on to complete a Post-Graduate Diploma in business administration (PDBA). This highly accomplished Limpopo woman also holds an MBA from the Gordon Institute of Business Science.

“My aviation career started at Comair and SAA as part of the cabin crew. There, I had an opportunity to fly to both domestic and international destinations. I also trained and worked as a Helicopter Pilot for the South African Police Services (SAPS). This is where I eventually became the first black woman to fly for them. After 10 years, I left the SAPS and joined SA Express as a fixed-wing pilot flying to domestic and regional destinations”.

Ledwaba founded the non-profit organization Girl Fly Africa in Programme to encourage young women into STEM careers, whatever their background. Ledwaba organizes the program for this organization every year: introducing women to the idea of flying as a career, as well as coding and robotics. It organizes lessons and training camps for young women in Botswana, Cameroon, and South Africa.

Over 100,000 young women had participated in GFAP. She credits her upbringing, led by strong women in apartheid South Africa, as inspiration for her success. In 2009 she set up the Southern African Women in Aviation and Aerospace Industry (SAWIA) group, to support women working in aviation.

Ledwaba has publicly called for the sector to employ more women, especially women of color at strategic levels in aviation.

We asked Refilwe about some of the women that have been the wind beneath her wings.

She counts; Margaret Viljoen (Captain at BA/Comair). She was the first female pilot at BA/Comair and was the first female pilot I met, who inspired me to become a pilot.

Sibongile Sambo (CEO of SRS Aviation). She is the first black woman to own an aviation company. She has remained humble and accessible throughout her career and continues to make an impact in the aviation field.

Mapule Mzimba is a Senior Banking Executive. She is a friend who’s been my constant cheerleader over the last 20 years”.

And the books that have spurred Refilwe on to success:

Lean In (Sheryl Sandberg)
Undeterred: the six success habits of women in emerging economies (Rania Habiby Anderson)
Aprons to Aeroplanes (Yvonne can den Dool)


2012 – South African Youth Award (Entrepreneur)
2012 – CEO Communication’s Most Influential Women in Business and Government (Aviation)
2014 – Young People in International Affairs [YPIA] (Top 35 Africans Under 35)
2015 – CEO Communication’s Most Influential Women in Business and Government (Aviation)

Refilwe is a shining example of a woman who flies in her own life, while she lights the fire in others so they too can launch their careers to success!

Wherever you are now Sesi Refilwe just know your story inspires every kid here in Mopani District and we salute you for that.

Sources: #Bossladies #Wikipedia

#Tzaneenvoice #Mopaniwomen50

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